A vaccine skeptic who is notorious for comparing vaccine effects to a “holocaust” told reporters that he accepted an offer from President-elect Donald Trump to lead a commission “on vaccine safety and scientific integrity.” The Trump team did not confirm the position had been offered.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a lawyer and environmental activist and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, has repeated the (disproved) link between childhood immunizations and the development of autism. In 2015, he apologized for using the word “holocaust” to describe the effects of vaccine programs across the U.S., when arguing against a California law restricting parents’ ability to opt out of immunization for kids.
On Tuesday, Kennedy met with Trump, and discussed the vaccination issue, CNN reported. He told reporters he agreed to chair a commission on “vaccination safety and scientific integrity.”
“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it,” Kennedy said. “His opinion doesn’t matter but the science does matter and we ought to be reading the science and we ought to be debating the science.”
While Kennedy described both Trump and himself as “very pro-vaccine,” he insisted that they want to make sure vaccines are “as safe as they possibly can be.”
The Trump campaign did not confirm that Kennedy had been offered any position, however. “The President-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on Autism, which affects so many families; however no decisions have been made at this time,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement. “The President-elect looks forward to continuing the discussion about all aspects of Autism with many groups and individuals.”
Unfortunately, Kennedy’s skepticism about vaccines — and his fear that they cause autism — is shared by Donald Trump. “My theory, and I study it because I have young children, my theory is the shots,” Trump said in 2007. “We’re giving these massive injections at one time, and I really think it does something to children.” In 2014, he pledged to promote this theory from the White House if elected president.
In a debate in September 2015, Trump doubled down. “Just the other day, two years old — two and a half years old — a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic,” the businessman declared.
Unfortunately, Trump’s suggestion that parents spread out vaccines for their children actually leads to tragedies like the measles outbreak in Disneyland in 2015. Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, PA, explained how. “To suggest that you make your own schedule is dangerous,” Offit argued. “That’s why we saw the measles outbreak in Disneyland this year,” because parents chose to delay vaccinating their children.
The fear that vaccines can cause autism traces back to a 1998 study by doctor Andrew Wakefield, who wrote that his study of 12 children showed that three vaccines taken together could alter immune systems, causing intestinal woes that then reach, and damage, the brain. The study was discredited in short order, the journal which originally published it pulled the report, and the doctor was banned from practicing medicine in Britain in 2010.
This did not convince all parents that vaccines are safe for their children, however. Infamously, California struggled to combat a measles outbreak around the famous Disneyland park in 2015. Many mothers have come forward after choosing not to vaccinate their kids, only to have them come down with preventable diseases — which in some cases have even made the mothers sick.
While some oppose mandated vaccinations as an individual rights issue, they only endanger themselves, their children, and society by opposing the very medical breakthrough which cured literally crippling diseases like polio. (My grandfather had polio, and lost the use of his legs around the age of 5. While he developed an amazing strength of character by learning to walk on crutches and play wheelchair tennis, he could never enjoy the basic pleasures of walking, running, and dancing.)
Autism is a serious disease, and it is not very well understood. But the fears that vaccines cause it are unsubstantiated, and indeed scientifically disproven.